2001, PG-13, 91 min. Directed by Peter Chelsom. Starring Eugene Levy, Bridget Moynihan, Molly Shannon, Jeremy Piven, Kate Beckinsale, John Cusack.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Oct. 5, 2001
When Jonathan (Cusack) meets Sara (Beckinsale), they're stuck in the Christmas crush at Bloomingdale's, both eyeing the last pair of cashmere black gloves. He's kinda funny, and she's pretty cute; after a few hours of courtship, all signs point toward yes. But both are already involved, so Sara suggests they leave it to fate. She writes her name and number in a worn copy of Love in the Time of Cholera with the intention of selling it the next day at a used bookstore; Jonathan writes his on a five-dollar bill, which she promptly uses to buy some Certs. If it's meant to be, he'll find the book, and she'll find the bill. Flash-forward an indiscriminate number of years -- few enough so that they're still kinda funny and pretty cute, and neither has started to sag weirdly yet -- and the two are on the verge of marrying other people. Cold feet gets them wondering “what if?” and whoosh! they're off on a cross-country search to find the one that got away and to make sure that one isn't, well, y'know, the one. Serendipity might have been more fittingly titled Suspension of Disbelief, or maybe The Unconvincing Hinging of an Entire Plot on the Notion of Fate, but then, that whole destiny-gobbledygook is the meat-and-potatoes of most romantic comedies, so why quibble? It could be called to task for cribbing from When Harry Met Sally...'s winning formula (boy + girl + love in NYC + silly plot devices to keep them apart + smart-ass best buddies + Louis Armstrong warbling sweet in the background) -- but then, Nora Ephron's been ripping off her own formula for a decade now, so again, not really any reason to dock points. And so it goes with the rest of the film. It has a remarkable yin/yang quality to counterbalance each trouble spot: For every wrong, there is a right. For every misstep, a saving grace. First-time writer Marc Klein flubs the character development, but the film easily coasts on Beckinsale and Cusack's pre-established charm. In the best friend roles, Shannon is awful and Piven is divine, which I suppose amounts to canceling each other out. Too many red herrings make the plot something of a bore, but even that's saved by some very funny set-pieces. Director Chelsom, whose inconsistent career veers from the woefully underrated Jerry Lewis/Oliver Platt black comedy Funny Bones to the just-plain-woeful Town and Country, does better by Serendipity, stamping it with enough quirkiness to almost distract from the inevitability of the story, and enough otherworldly elements to make “fate” a little less something to choke on. Cinematographer John de Borman lenses New York to look magical, which is as it should be, and some neat time-lapse tricks and musical effects (including recurring snatches of a Nick Drake song) add to the etherealness of it all. Ultimately, it's the yin and yang that does Serendipity in. Balance is good, but it isn't particularly impassioned. Neither is Serendipity. It's kinda funny and pretty cute. Sometimes that's all it takes.